General Aircraft Limited, Feltham & Lidice

During the Second World War, General Aircraft Limited (GAL) became an important designer and manufacturer of gliders, in particular the massive Hamilcar troop and equipment carrier. GAL was also part of the Civilian Repair Organisation, repairing Supermarine Spitfires and modifying Hawker Hurricanes to enable catapult-launching from convoy escort ships. The work was done at Hanworth, near Feltham.

The Hamilcar Glider

As a result of the operations conducted there, the town experienced particularly heavy bombing even though it was 15 miles outside Central London. Understandably, staff at GAL may well have felt a special kinship towards members of the overseas crews fighting for the RAF, including the many Czech pilots, and especially the two former Lidice residents, Josef Horák and Josef Stříbrný—But also, the fate of Lidice had a harmonising effect on the workers and managers alike; Lidice Shall Live was a cause to coalesce around in order to ensure a successful prosecution of the war.

On Saturday the 3rd of July 1943, the Middlesex Chronicle reported that working in conjunction with the national Lidice Shall Live campaign, a Feltham based Lidice Shall Live Committee based within the General Aircraft Ltd Works had arranged a series of events for the coming week:

“…in support of the fund for the rebuilding of the Czech mining village, which the Nazis destroyed a year ago after a massacre of its people.”

Promotional poster from 1943

A programme gave details of the scheduled activities, which were to conclude with a demonstration on Feltham Green on Sunday, July the 11th. Sponsored by General Aircraft Limited Works Committee, who met all expenses, these social activities and competitions were to support the national Lidice Shall Live fund and took place in and around Feltham from the week beginning Sunday the 4th of July. In addition to a snooker handicap, darts and table tennis challenges, the events included a dance in the GAL Clubhouse on Wednesday under the direction of Mr A. Russell, with music by Wynne and Her Boys; a variety show in the Parish Hall on Thursday with addresses on the object of the effort; another dance for GAL employees on the Friday evening; and a charity cricket match on Saturday the 10th at Sunbury.

An example of the sponsorship allocated by GLA was the £100 awarded to the winners of the Lidice Shall Live Darts Tournament—Reporting on the 25th of September, the Middlesex Chronicle declared:

Cup goes to “Horse & Groom…

The “Lidice shall live” darts semi-finals and final were played on Saturday at the G.A.L. Social and Sports Clubroom, Feltham before a large number of spectators:

The first semi-final was between Kenure “B” and “Horse and Groom,” the latter winning very easily to everyone’s surprise, in two straight games. Finishing doubles were thrown by Jordon and Manning. In the second semi-final Genair “A” beat Automotive after two very close games, the two winning shots being scored by Stan Garnier. In one leg Llewellyn started the game with 140, and in the second leg G. Frost registered 111.

With the stage all set for a grand finale, the first leg was won quite easily by Genair, Bedford finishing on double 3. The second was a neck and neck affair until after the last check when “Horse and Groom” went right away, and Watson finished on 28. In the second leg, as in the first, up came Watson, needing 46. He threw single eight and double 19 to finish the game and take the cup to the “Horse and Groom,” where it will stay for the next 12 months…

The cup and prizes were presented by Cllr P. C. McNally, who informed the audience that a cheque for £100 had been handed to the Lidice Rebuilding Fund,” with more to follow. The cup was donated by the shop stewards of General Aircraft Ltd. Feltham

FELTHAM RALLY – JULY 11TH 1943

The climactic rally at Feltham Green, whose slogan read “Lidice reborn means the defeat of Fascism” went ahead as planned. It began at 3pm on the afternoon of Sunday the 11th and it drew a large crowd.

In attendance were the Czechoslovak Minister of State, Dr Hubert Ripka; Mr Ebby Edwards, Secretary of the Mineworkers’ Federation of Great Britain; Mr Jack Tanner of the Amalgamated Engineering Union; Commandant G. Tilge, representing the Free French; Mr Vasily Valkov, for the Soviet Embassy; the London office of the Lidice Shall Live committee arranged for the “Two Czech pilots” to be in attendance once more—Flight Lieutenants Josef Horák and Josef Stříbrný; and there were several more members of the Czechoslovak Government-in-exile present.

Music was provided by a Home Guard Band and a Czechoslovakian Army Choir. It was successfully arranged that the BBC and Movietone be present to record and broadcast the event, including a message from the residents of Feltham to the people of occupied territories. However, thus far, research has failed to unearth the material.

Having developed a relationship with the London Office, a deputation visited the Czechoslovak Embassy on Thursday the 22nd of July to hand over the proceeds of the Feltham Committee’s efforts, all of whom were General Aircraft Limited employees. The party consisted of P. C. McNally, works convenor of shop stewards and head of the deputation; W. H. Chamberlain, secretary of the organising committee; A. H. Bone, publicity secretary; and A. Burgess. Addressing Dr Hubert Ripka, Czech Minister of State, Mr McNally said he had much pleasure in presenting a cheque for £100, to which – 4,000 aircraft workers had subscribed. He also read the following message:

Hubert Ripka

“We, the workers of General Aircraft, Feltham, sad because of the terrible sufferings of our comrades everywhere under Fascist domination, but inspired by their example, pledge ourselves to redouble our efforts towards an early invasion of Europe, bringing relief to our enslaved comrades, so that Lidice and all it represents shall rise from the ashes of oppression at the earliest possible moment.”

Dr Ripka, acknowledging the gift, expressed appreciation of the enthusiasm shown by the British people in the Lidice Shall Live campaign, coupled with the hope that the friendship between the two nations would be everlasting.

A new round of pub fundraisers and other events extended the appeal into late summer and autumn, including the men and women’s Lidice Shall Live Darts Tournament. However, it seems that Feltham’s campaign quietened as 1944 approached, based on the lack of press coverage.

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